‘Antibodies’ Original Song Channels Fight for Free Expression
Vietnamese/Arabic lyrics from songwriters Mai Khoi and Hamed Sinno are unique collaboration showing solidarity of artists amid global crisis
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — PEN America today released “Antibodies,” an original song by Mai Khoi and Hamed Sinno in Vietnamese and Arabic that channels the current global movement for social justice amid a pandemic. The song’s release is part of #ArtistsxArtists, a campaign of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) meant to call attention to threats to artistic freedom by pairing artists to creative collaborative works. The song is available today on Spotify and other platforms.
The performers and songwriters, Vietnamese activist and political dissident Mai Khoi and Lebanese vocalist Hamed Sinno, are both currently living in exile in the United States, having faced death threats and retaliation for their art and activism in their home countries. Khoi had a successful career as a pop singer, ran and was disqualified for Vietnam’s National Assembly, and has consistently spoken out against human rights abuses. Sinno had a massive following in his native Lebanon, but his proud embrace of his queer identity drew a toxic backlash that culminated in accusations of blasphemy and death threats.
“While these two artists come from separate musical traditions and backgrounds, both have found a measure of solidarity in standing for human rights and freedom amid a difficult global moment,” said Julie Trebault, director of PEN America’s ARC program. “Together, their voices blend calls for social justice, echoing the cries emanating from the streets. Both have been targeted for speaking out, but this collaboration shows that in solidarity, artists grow in strength and in courage. We’re so proud to bring this song to the public.”
With lyrics in Vietnamese and Arabic, the two-part composition explores the feelings of grief and loneliness amid injustice, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. ARC brought the two artists together over video chat, and they first collaborated within days of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Khoi joined the movement in the streets and used it to inspire her songwriting for “Antibodies,” while independently Sinno penned his own vocal verse.
“This song is a conversation between artists from different countries who found each other in the middle of a pandemic,” said Khoi. “It documents emerging reactions to the pandemic and the antidote of solidarity to the isolation of social distancing spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement. I really enjoyed the organic way in which the collaboration unfolded.”
“While we didn’t physically meet each other until the song was complete, the dialogue offered a momentary respite from the solitude of life in quarantine, even though we were each writing in our native languages, and only told each other what we were writing about when everything was done,” said Sinno. “What transpired is something of a time capsule of both our experiences of living in isolation and trying to grapple with how the pandemic intersected with issues of racial justice and social inequality.”